Railsea - China Miéville Trains aren't nice. I'm not sure the book gets that.

In the pre-finial epilogue of chapter 84:
you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the way.

But this is to miss, to my mind, the point of the train. Ships (and cars) are images of freedom, of potential, adventure and exploration. But on a train you cannot go elsewhere. A train goes from here to there and only to there. Trains are about things left behind and people gone or taken away, choices irrevocably made.

The geography of rails is about separation and isolation. The landscape between the stations can be seen, but not touched. It's a superimposed alternate universe, a closed off space, physically and temporally constrained. Historically, trains are means of imperialist control over the landscape, from the Trans-Siberian to the Congo, and over people, from the gulag to the holocaust. Trains are cramped, stiff, artificial. They even, typically, have classes.

But in Railsea, trains are nice. Trains are varied, punky, exuberant, lively, piratical, dashing and exciting. Worst of all, they may go where they like. Meiville always seems to write stories about things being more. Trains are ships, ships are cities, trains are cities, cities are other cities. Me, I like best of all stories about things being less. The way things are when stuff is reduced, constrained, narrowed. I'm always interested in focus and obsession.

But this book is exactly about the dismissal of obsession. Obsession features again and again and receives short shrift. It is not merely that it is not admired - obsession is usually ultimately tragic. Thats ok. - it's that it's dismissed, derided, made charlataneous.

In Moby Dick, on the whole wide sea, Ahab wants only one thing. This is the curious, powerful juxtaposition of the thing. However, it is in the nature of the train to want only one thing, and yet Meiville seemingly attempts to reclaim and rehabilitate it in the service of joyous adventure, explicitly makes of it a prelude to the sea. That's just wrong - the railway is the natural and obvious vehicle of self destructive obsession.

This book is a crime against trainhood.


Oh, there's plot and characters and stuff. They're ok I guess.